The Perfection Of Yoga
A lecture by
"A person is said to be established in self-realization and is called a yogi [or mystic] when he is fully satisfied by virtue of acquired knowledge and realization. Such a person is situated in transcendence and is self-controlled. He sees everything—whether it be pebbles, stones, or gold—as the same." [Bhagavad-gita 6.8]
Book knowledge without realization of the Supreme Truth is useless. In the Padma Purana this is stated as follows:
"No one can understand the transcendental nature of the name, form, qualities, and pastimes of Sri Krsna through materially contaminated senses. Only when one becomes spiritually saturated by transcendental service to the Lord are the transcendental name, form, quality, and pastimes of the Lord revealed to him."
This point is very important. Now, we accept Krsna as the Supreme Lord. And why do we accept Krsna as the Supreme Lord? Because it is stated in the Vedic literature. The Brahma-samhita, for example, says, isvarah paramah krsnah sac-cid-ananda-vigrahah: "The Supreme Controller is Krsna, who has an eternal, blissful, spiritual body." Those who are in passion and ignorance, the lower modes of material nature, simply imagine the form of God. And when they are confused they say, "Oh, there is no personal God. The Absolute is impersonal or void." This idea is a product of frustration. Actually, God has a form. Why not? The Vedanta-sutra says, janmady asya yatah. "The Supreme Absolute Truth is that from whom [or from which] everything emanates." Now, we have forms. And not only we but all the different kinds of living entities have forms. Wherefrom have they come? Wherefrom have these forms originated? If God is not a person, then how have His sons become persons? If my father is not a person, how have I become a person? If my father has no form, wherefrom did I get my form? These are commonsense questions. Nonetheless, when people are frustrated, when they see that their bodily forms are troublesome, they develop an opposite conception of form and imagine that God must be formless. But the Brahma-samhita says no. God has a form, but His form is eternal, full of knowledge and bliss (isvarah paramah krsnah sac-cid-ananda-vigrahah). Sat means "eternal," cit means "knowledge," and ananda means "pleasure." So God has a form, but His form is full of pleasure, full of knowledge, and eternal.
If we compare our body to God's, we see that our body is neither eternal nor full of pleasure nor full of knowledge. So our form is clearly different from God's. Unfortunately, as soon as we think of form, we usually think the form must be like ours. Therefore, we think that since God must be the opposite of us, lie must have no form. This is speculation, however, not knowledge. Again, the Padma Purana says, atah sri-krsna-namadi na bhaved grahyam indriyaih: "One cannot understand the form, name, quality, or paraphernalia of God with one's material senses." Our senses are imperfect, so how can we speculate on the Supreme Perfect? It is not possible.
Then how is it possible to see Him? Sevonmukhe hi jihvadau. If we train our senses, if we purify our senses, those purified senses will help us see God. It is just as if we had cataracts on our eyes. When our eyes are suffering from cataracts, we cannot see. But this does not mean that there is nothing to be seen—only that we cannot see. Similarly, now we cannot conceive of the form of God, but if our "cataracts," our ignorance, are removed we can see Him. The Brahma-samhita says, premanjana-cchurita-bhakti-vilocanena/ santah sadaiva hrdayesu vilokayanti: "The devotees whose eyes are anointed with the love-of-God ointment see God, Krsna, within their hearts twenty-four hours a day." So we need to purify our senses. Then we'll be able to understand what the form of God is, what the name of God is, what the qualities of God are, and what the paraphernalia of God is. Then we'll be able to see God in everything. The Vedic literature is full of references to God's form. For example, it is said that God has no hands or legs but that He can accept anything you offer (apani-pado javano grahita). Also, it is said that God has no eyes or ears but that He can see everything and hear everything. These are apparent contradictions, because whenever we think of someone seeing, we think he must have eyes like ours. This is our material conception. Factually, however, God does have eyes, but His eyes are different from ours. He can see even in the darkness, but we cannot. God can hear, also. God is in His kingdom, which is millions and millions of miles away, but if we are whispering something in a conspiracy, He can hear it, because He is sitting within us.
So we cannot avoid God's seeing or God's hearing or God's touching. In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna says,
patram puspam phalam toyam
"If somebody offers Me flowers, fruits, vegetables, or milk with devotional love, I accept and eat it." How is He eating? We cannot see Him eat, but He is eating. We experience this daily: when we offer Krsna food according to the Vedic ritualistic process, we see that the taste of the food changes immediately. This is practical.
Thus God eats, but because He is full in Himself, He does not eat like us. If someone offers me a plate of food and I eat it, the food is gone. But God is not hungry, so when He eats He leaves the things as they are. Purnasya purnam adaya purnam evavasisyate: God is so full that He can eat all the food that we offer but still it remains as it is. He can eat even with His eyes. This is stated in the Brahma-samhita. Angani yasya sakalendriya-vrttimanti: "Every limb of the body of God has all the potencies of the other limbs." Although we can see with our eyes, we cannot eat with our eyes. But if God simply sees the food we have offered, that is His eating.
Of course, we cannot understand this at the present moment. Therefore the Padma Purana says that only when one becomes spiritually saturated by transcendental service to the Lord are the transcendental name, form, qualities, and pastimes of the Lord revealed. We cannot understand God by our own endeavor, but God can reveal Himself to us. Trying to see God by our own efforts is just like trying to see the sun when it is dark outside. If we say, "I have a very strong flashlight, and I shall search out the sun," we will not be able to see it. But in the morning, when the sun rises by its own will, we can easily see it. Similarly, we cannot see God by our own endeavor, because our senses are all imperfect. We have to purify our senses and wait for the time when God will be pleased to reveal Himself before us. This is the process of Krsna consciousness. We cannot challenge, "My dear Lord, my dear Krsna, You must come before me so I can see You." No, God is not our order supplier, our servant. When He is pleased with us, we'll see Him. Therefore in our yoga process (bhakti-yoga), we try to please God so that He will be revealed to us. That is the real yoga process. Without this process, people are accepting so many nonsensical "Gods." Because people cannot see God, anybody who says "I am God" is accepted. No one knows who God is. Somebody may say, "I am searching after the truth," but he must know what the truth is. Otherwise, how will he search it out? Suppose I want to purchase gold. I must know what gold is, or at least have some experience of it. Otherwise people will cheat me. So people are being cheated—accepting so many rascals as God—because they do not know what God is. Anyone can come and say, "I am God," and some rascal will accept him as God. The man who says, "I am God" is a rascal, and the man who accepts him as God is also a rascal. God cannot be known like this. One has to qualify himself to see God and to understand God. That is Krsna consciousness. Sevonmukhe hi jihvadau svayam eva sphuraty adah. If we engage ourselves in the service of the Lord, then we'll become qualified to see God. Otherwise it is not possible.
Bhagavad-gita is a transcendental science—the science of Krsna consciousness. So no one can become Krsna conscious simply by mundane scholarship. Simply because one has some titles—M.A., B.A., Ph.D.—that does not mean he'll understand Bhagavad-gita. This is a transcendental science, and one requires transcendental senses to understand it. Therefore one has to purify his senses by rendering service to the Lord. Otherwise, even if one is a great scholar he will make mistakes in trying to find out what Krsna is. He will not understand—it is not possible: This is why Krsna appears in the material world. Although He is unborn (ajo 'pi sann avyayatma), He comes to let us know who God is. But since He is not personally present now, to know Him one must be fortunate enough to associate with a devotee who is in pure Krsna consciousness. By the grace of Krsna a devotee gets realized knowledge. So we have to acquire the grace of Krsna. Then we can understand Krsna, then we can see Krsna, then we can talk with Krsna—then we can do everything.
Krsna is a person. He is the supreme person. That is the Vedic injunction. Nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam: "We are all eternal persons, and God is the supreme eternal person." Now, being encaged within this body, we are meeting birth and death. But actually we have no birth and death, because we are eternal spirit souls. According to our work, according to our desire, we are transmigrating from one kind of body to another, another, and another. But in reality we have no birth and death. As explained in Bhagavad-gita [2.20], na jayate mriyate va: "The living entity never takes birth and never dies." Similarly, God is also eternal. Nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam: "God is the supreme living entity among all living entities, and He is the supreme eternal person among all eternal persons:" By practicing Krsna consciousness, by purifying our senses, we can reestablish our eternal relationship with the supreme, complete, eternal person. Then we will see God.
By realized, transcendental knowledge one becomes perfect and can remain steady in his convictions, but by mere academic knowledge one can be easily deluded and confused by apparent contradictions. It is the realized soul who is actually self-controlled, because he is surrendered to Krsna. And it is the realized soul who is transcendental, because he has nothing to do with mundane scholarship. For him, mundane scholarship and mental speculation, which may be as good as gold to others, are of no greater value than pebbles or stones.
Even if one is illiterate, even if he does not know the ABCs, he can realize God—provided he engages himself in submissive, transcendental loving service to God. On the other hand, a very learned scholar may not be able to realize God. God is not subject to any material condition, because He is the Supreme Spirit. Similarly, the process of realizing God is also not subject to any material condition. It is not true that because one is a poor man he cannot realize God or because one is a very rich man he shall realize God. No. God is unconditional (apratihata). In the Srimad-Bhagavatam [1.2.6] it is said, sa vai pumsam paro dharmo yato bhaktir adhoksaje: "That religion is first-class which helps one advance his devotional service and love of God." The Bhagavatam does not mention that the Hindu religion is first class or that the Christian religion is first class or that the Mohammedan religion is first class or that some other religion is first class. The Bhagavatam says, "That religion is first class which helps one advance his devotional service and love of God." That's all. This is the definition of a first-class religion. We do not arbitrarily designate one religion as first class and another religion as last class. Of course, there are three qualities in the material world (goodness, passion, and ignorance), and religious conceptions are created according to these qualities. But the purpose of religion is to understand God, and to learn how to love God. Any religious system, if it teaches one how to love God, is first class. Otherwise it is useless. One may prosecute his religious principles very rigidly and very nicely, but if his love of God is nil, if his love of matter is simply enhanced, then his religion is no religion.
In the same verse the Bhagavatam says that real religion must be ahaituki and apratihata: without selfish motivation and without any impediment. If we can practice such a system of religious principles, then we'll find that we are happy in all respects. Otherwise there is no possibility of happiness. Sa vai pumsam paro dharmo yato bhaktir adhoksaje. One of God's names is Adhoksaja. Adhoksaja means "one who conquers all materialistic attempts to be seen." Aksaja means "direct perception by experimental knowledge," and adhah means "unreachable." So, we cannot understand God by experimental knowledge. No. We have to learn of Him in a different way—by submissive aural reception of transcendental sound, and by the rendering of transcendental loving service. Then we can understand God.
Therefore, a religious principle is perfect if it teaches us how to develop our love for God. But our love must be without selfish motive. If I say, "I love God because He supplies me very nice things for my sense gratification," that is not love. Real love is without any selfish motive (ahaituki). We must simply think, "God is great; God is my father. It is my duty to love Him," That's all. No exchange—"God gives me my daily bread; therefore I love Him." No. God gives daily bread even to the animals—the cats and dogs. God is the father of everyone, and He supplies food to everyone. So appreciating God because He gives me bread—that is not love. Love is without motive. I must think, "Even if God does not supply me my daily bread, I'll love Him." This is real love. As Caitanya Mahaprabhu says, aslisya va pada-ratam pinastu mam adarsanan marma-hatam karotu va: "O Lord, You may embrace me, or You may trample me down-with Your feet, or You may never come before me, so that I become brokenhearted because of not seeing You. Still, I love you." This is pure love of God. When we come to this stage of loving God, then well find ourselves full of pleasure. Just as God is full of pleasure, we'll also be full of pleasure. This is perfection.
Fighting Religious Defamation
B'nai B'rith, the world's largest Jewish service organization, has a long and distinguished history of philanthropic achievement. In particular, its Anti-Defamation League has been a pioneer in working against racial and religious prejudice.
Devotees of Krsna were surprised, therefore, when they recently found a B'nai B'rith pamphlet rife with stereotypes of Krsna devotees as cultists and brainwashed robots. Such caricatures, the devotees thought, had been discredited long ago.
The correspondence below ensued.
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Mrs. Esther Wein Deitz
Dear Mrs. Deitz:
I have read with interest the B'nai B'rith pamphlet that asks the pointed question, "How much do you really know about those new 'religious' groups?"
In regard to its depiction of the Hare Krishna movement, I suggest that your pamphlet makes use of the same unethical techniques of defamation that the Jewish people have been victims of for centuries—the unprincipled use of unsupportable derogatory generalizations, emotion-filled pejoratives, demeaning graphic caricatures, inflammatory rhetoric, appeals to bigoted pseudoscientific authorities, and out-and-out falsehoods.
You label the Hare Krishna movement a "cult;" a snarl word with heavy pejorative color, or else you describe it as "religious" within sneering, abusive quotation marks.
You erroneously describe our religious tradition as "new" and indiscriminately lump it in with a host of disreputable groups adhering to recently concocted doctrines.
Yet the Hare Krishna movement, in contrast to these other groups, represents a genuine religious tradition with a history going back thousands of years, a respected body of ancient theological literature, millions of followers and supporters, and an authenticity affirmed by hundreds of the world's most prominent scholars of philosophy and religion.
All this leads us to ask, How much do you really know about our religion? For that matter, how much do you really know about your own? Is belittling and verbally spitting upon our religion really a part of the Jewish way of life?
For decades, B'nai B'rith has protested stereotyped graphic depictions of Jews. Yet now you apparently feel no qualms about presenting demeaning caricatures of Hare Krishna devotees.
You say the Hare Krishna movement revolves around "allegiance to a leader with absolute power within the group." This is an utter falsehood. If such an all-powerful leader actually exists, you ought to be able to name him—or else you ought to be able to admit that you are wrong.
As is common in the literature of prejudice, you have also fallen into the two logical fallacies known as "appeal to an unqualified authority" and "appeal to an authority outside his field of expertise."
To give only one of several possible examples, you offer a derisive quotation from a psychiatrist named Dr. John G. Clark. Could this be the same Dr. John G. Clark who certified an adult Hare Krishna devotee mentally incompetent—without even having clinically examined him—and had him confined in an insane asylum against his will? Could this be the same Dr. Clark who—again, without benefit of a legitimate clinical examination—testified to a court of law that the young man was "brainwashed" and mentally incompetent, although a panel of court-appointed experts (nominated by Dr. Clark himself) later concluded, after more than a week of exhaustive clinical tests, that the young man was entirely normal?
Doesn't such a misuse of psychiatry sound familiar? Aren't you aware of how these same techniques were used against Jews in Nazi Germany and are still being used against Jews and dissenters in the Soviet Union today?
The motive behind your pamphlet is obvious: you are distressed because the Jewish community is losing its young Jews. But is this enough to justify abandoning the lofty ideals B'nai B'rith has always stood for? Is it sufficient cause for you to take up the same weapons so long used against Jews and wield them yourself against others? In short, is it enough to justify hypocrisy?
Certainly, thousands of Jews are abandoning their religious tradition—with or without joining the Hare Krishna movement. And irresponsible attacks on a legitimate religious tradition can only hasten the process.
Jews are leaving their religion—for secularism, atheism, agnosticism, materialism, and just about every other ism there is. So you have a problem. Do you think that attacking the Hare Krishna movement will make your problem go away?
Certainly many young Jews are becoming disenchanted with their Jewish upbringing and are joining the Hare Krishna movement. And certainly it's easy to say that they join us because the Hare Krishna zombies paralyze their minds, hypnotize them; and turn them into obedient jelly-brained robots.
How much more difficult and painful it would be for you to admit that these young people are already disenchanted with what they see in modern Judaism: a Judaism so closely aligned with modern materialism and consumerism that it fails to meet their spiritual needs, a Judaism enervated by hypocrisy, a superficial (or, in Rabbi Blank's apt word, "trivialized") Judaism that offers them bagels and lox and swanky bar mitzvahs but fails to endow them with understanding of who they are, who God is, and how they can ultimately bring forth their love for Him.
These are serious problems for the Jewish people, and they are the problems to which serious Jewish thinkers are drawing your attention. For you to divert your valuable energy to making unjust, ignorant, irresponsible attacks on the Hare Krishna movement can only make those problems worse. After all, Mrs. Deitz, I think you most likely know as well as I that if there's one thing a sensitive young person can't stomach it's hypocrisy.
As it is said in the Vedic scriptures, "The highest religion a man can follow is that by which he develops his unalloyed, unmotivated love for God. But if one adheres to religious allegiances without developing such love, his religion is but a useless waste of time." Only a relationship of pure love for God can fully satisfy a living being. The Krishna consciousness movement teaches that if one finds this relationship through Judaism, Christianity, or whatever, that is perfectly good. But if one who seriously desires such a relationship finds that the religious milieu of his birth has been co-opted by materialism and has lost sight of what he is looking for, we cannot help but advise him to chant Hare Krishna and understand God in a profound, scientific yet personal way through the teachings of Bhagavad-gita.
In support of what I have said about the Hare Krishna movement, I enclose an article written by Dr. Diana L. Eck, Assistant Professor of Hindu Religion in the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies and the Comparative Study of Religion at Harvard University. In this article, Dr. Eck explains the Hare Krishna movement's authenticity and significance. I hope you will take the time to read and consider it carefully. Then if you still feel that I have improperly stated the qualifications of the Hare Krishna movement or that any of the other points in this letter are improper, I humbly request you to point out where you feel I have erred, and I will certainly be willing to reply. Otherwise, I respectfully request you to acknowledge the authenticity of this ancient religious tradition and assure me that B'nai B'rith will repudiate the errors and unjustices that appear in this pamphlet and never lend its good name to them again.
I understand that your pamphlet was originally assembled not by B'nai B'rith but by a self-styled "anti-cult" group in California. They seem to have misled you. I would like to think that somehow a well-meaning group of people within B'nai B'rith has maligned the Hare Krishna movement unwittingly. I hope you will write to me to confirm that this is so.
Some groups and individuals, when confronted with even the most glaring errors and injustices in their publications, have neither the integrity to change them nor the courtesy to reply. I hope that from your good self, in contrast, I may receive a prompt response.
Hoping this finds you in good health,
December 4, 1979
Dear Mr. Israel:
In response to your letter of November 25, I wish to point out that Dr. John Clark is only one of many respected physicians and scholars who have questioned the recruitment and retention methods used by several groups in the American community.
We will certainly take seriously your comments about the distortion of Jewish values in evidence among some of our people and continue to do what we can through the various B'nai B'rith departments to ameliorate this problem. We will constantly examine our educational process and our behavior to be certain that it does not do discredit to our beliefs.
December 10, 1979
Dear Mrs. Deitz:
Thank you for your gracious reply to my letter of November 25. It is gratifying to know that you will take seriously, my comments about Jewish values and that you are always on the lookout for inconsistency between your beliefs and your behavior.
Yet I was disappointed that you were silent about the main point of my letter—specifically, that B'nai B'rith is perpetuating an injustice against the exponents of a legitimate religious tradition by publishing tracts that defame the devotees of Krishna and the traditional religious practices of the Hare Krishna movement. I pointed out that this defamation involves the use of derogatory generalizations, demeaning graphics, and other such devices that B'nai B'rith has traditionally deplored. I appealed to you to stop this injustice, but you have not yet responded.
Thank you for your comments about Dr. Clark. With you, I believe that respected physicians and scholars do a great service by raising questions about how various groups in America conduct themselves. But raising honest questions is quite different from denigrating a religious group one has never scientifically studied. And it is still further different from committing sane adults to mental institutions to try to wrench them from their religious affiliations and beliefs. The prestige of the medical profession should not be an excuse for bigotry, and certainly not for persecution.
Among the religious scholars and mental health professionals who have studied the Hare Krishna movement in depth and without bias, the overwhelming consensus has been that, regardless of what other groups may do, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness is a legitimate religious organization that wins and retains its adherents through straightforward traditional means. We do not practice hypnosis or "brainwashing" any more than Jews grow horns.
Again, I appeal to you to make a proper distinction between the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and the other groups mentioned in your pamphlet. And I appeal to you, as a representative of B'nai B'rith, to assure me that B'nai B'rith will no longer take part in defaming the ancient and respected religious tradition of which our Society is the world's leading exponent.
Should you need further evidence about the authenticity of our movement or the freedom of choice its members enjoy, I would urge you to get in touch with the following religious scholars and mental health professionals, all of whom (in contrast to the people quoted in your pamphlet) have studied our movement in depth: [The original letter included their telephone numbers and complete addresses.]
Dr. Harvey Cox
Dr. Thomas J. Hopkins
Dr. Allen Gerson
Dr. Alan Waterman
Dr. Diana L. Eck
Dr. J. Stillson Judah
Dr. Sanford Rosenzweig
Dr. Marshall Schechter
Should you need still further information, I am prepared to supply it in abundance. Again, as you have kindly responded promptly to my longer and more strongly worded letter, I hope I may ask you the favor of responding promptly to this humble request.
I shall await your early reply.
Hoping this finds you in good health,
We regret that as this magazine goes to press, in late February of 1980, we have received from Mrs. Deitz no further response.
The Biography of a Pure Devotee
by Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
Eager to fulfill his spiritual master's request that he teach the science of Krsna consciousness to Westerners, Srila Prabhupada welcomed anyone and everyone into his little storefront temple on the Lower East Side.
Prabhupada retired through the rear door, back up to his apartment, his guests would disappear through the front door, back into the city. Don and Raphael would turn out the lights, lock the front door, and go to sleep on the floor in their blankets.
Don and Raphael had needed a place to stay, when they heard about the Swami's place. Prabhupada had a policy that any boy who expressed even a little interest in becoming his student could stay in the storefront and make it his home, Of course, Prabhupada would ask them to contribute towards the rent and meals, but if, like Don and Raphael, they had no money, then it was still all right, provided they helped in other ways,
Don and Raphael were the first two boys to take advantage of Prabhupada's offer. They were attracted to Prabhupada and the chanting, but they weren't serious about his philosophy or the disciplines of devotional life. They had no jobs and no money, their hair was long and unkempt, and they lived and slept in the same clothes day after day, Prabhupada stipulated that at least while they were on the premises they could not break his rules—no intoxication, illicit sex, meat-eating, or gambling. He knew these two boarders weren't serious students, but he allowed them to stay, in hopes that they would become Krsna conscious and help him sometimes.
Often, some wayfaring stranger would stop by, looking for a place to stay the night, and Don and Raphael would welcome him. An old white-bearded Indian-turned-Christian who was on a walking mission proclaiming the end of the world, and whose feet were covered with bandages, once slept for a few nights on a wooden bench in the storefront. Some nights as many as ten drifters would seek shelter at the storefront, and Don and Raphael would admit them, explaining that the Swami didn't object, as long as they got up early. Even drifters whose only interest was a free meal could stay, and after the morning class and breakfast they would usually drift off again into maya.
Don and Raphael were the Swami's steady boarders, although during the day they also went out, returning only for meals, sleep, and evening chanting. Occasionally they would bathe, and then they would use the Swami's bathroom up in his apartment. Sometimes they would hang out in the storefront during the day, and if someone stopped by, asking about the Swami's classes, they would tell the person all they knew (which wasn't much). They admitted that they weren't really into the Swami's philosophy, and they didn't claim to be his followers. If someone persisted in inquiring about the Swami's teachings, Don and Raphael would suggest, "Why don't you go up and talk to him? The Swami lives in the apartment building out back. Why don't you go up and see him?"
Prabhupada usually stayed in his apartment. Occasionally he might look out his window and see that the light in the closetsized bathroom had needlessly been left burning. Coming down to ask the boys to turn it off and not waste electricity, he might find a few boys lying on the floor talking or reading. Prabhupada would stand gravely, asking them not to leave the light on, stressing the seriousness of wasting Krsna's energy and money. He would stand dressed in khadi, that coarse handloomed cotton woven from handspun threads, a cloth that to Americans appears somehow exotic. Even the saffron color of Prabhupada's dhoti and chadar was exotic; produced from the traditional Indian rock dye, it was a dull, uneven color, different from anything Western. After Prabhupada turned off the light, the boys seemed to have nothing to say and nothing more appropriate to do than look with interest at him for a long awkward moment, and Prabhupada would leave without saying anything more.
Money was scarce. From his evening meetings he would usually collect about five or six dollars in change and bills. Don talked of going up to New England to pick apples and bring money back for the Swami. Raphael said something about some money coming. Srila Prabhupada waited, and depended on Krsna. Sometimes he would walk back and forth in the courtyard between the buildings. Appearing mysterious to the neighbors, he would chant on his beads, his hand deep in his bead bag.
Mostly he kept to his room, working. As he had said during a lecture when living on the Bowery, "I am here always working at something, reading or writing, some kind of reading or writing—twenty-four hours." His mission of translating Srimad-Bhagavatam, of presenting the complete work in sixty volumes of four hundred pages each, could alone occupy all his days and nights. He worked at it whenever possible, sitting at his portable typewriter or translating the Sanskrit into English. He especially worked in the very early hours of the morning, when he would not be interrupted. He would comb through the Sanskrit and Bengali commentaries of the great acaryas, following their explanations, selecting passages from them, adding his own knowledge and realization, and then weaving it all together and typing out his Bhaktivedanta purports. He had no means or immediate plans for financing the publishing of further volumes, but he continued in the faith that somehow they would be published.
He had a broad mission, broader even than translating Srimad-Bhagavatam, and so he gave much of his time and energy to meeting visitors. Had his aim been only to write, there would have been no need of his taking the risk and trouble of coming to America. Now many people were coming, and an important part of his mission was to talk to them and convince them of Krsna consciousness. His visitors were usually young men who had recently come to live on the Lower East Side. He had no secretary to screen his visitors, nor did he have scheduled visiting hours. Whenever anyone happened by—at any time, from early morning to ten at night—Prabhupada would stop his typing or translation and speak with them. It was an open neighborhood, and many visitors would come in right off the street: Some were serious, but many were not; some even came intoxicated. Often they came not to inquire submissively, but to challenge.
Once a young hippie on an LSD trip found his way upstairs and sat opposite Prabhupada: "Right now I am higher than you are," he announced. "I am God." Prabhupada bowed his head slightly, his palms folded: "Please accept my obeisances," he said. Then he asked "God" to leave. Others admitted frankly that they were crazy or haunted by ghosts and were searching for relief from their mental suffering.
I was looking for spiritual centers—places where one can go, not like stores where they ask you to leave, but where you can actually talk to people and try to understand the ultimate truth. I would come to the Swami's, knowing it was definitely a spiritual center. There was definitely something there. I was on drugs and disturbed with the notion that I must be God, or some very important personality way out of proportion to my actual situation. I was actually in trouble, mentally deranged because of so much suffering, and I would kind of blow in to see him whenever I felt the whim to do so. I didn't make a point of going to his meetings; but a lot of times I would just come. One time I came and spent the night there. I was always welcome at any time to sleep in the storefront. I wanted to show the Swami what a sad case I was, so he should definitely do something for me. He told me to join him and he could solve my problems. But I wasn't ready.
I was really into sex, and I wanted to know what he meant by illicit sex—what was his definition. He said to me, "This means sex outside of marriage." But I wasn't satisfied with the answer, and I asked him for more details. He told me to first consider the answer he had given me and then come back the next day and he would tell me more.
Then I showed up with a girl. The Swami came to the door and said, "I am very busy. I have my work, I have my translating. I cannot talk with you now. " Well, that was the only time he didn't offer me full hospitality and full attention and talk with me as many questions I had. So I left immediately with the girl. He was correct in his perception that I was simply going to see him just to try to impress the girl. He saw through it right away, and he rejected that type of association.
But every time I came and I was in trouble, he always helped me.
Sometimes young men would come with scholarly pretensions to test Prabhupada's knowledge of Bhagavad-gita. "You have read the Gita," Prabhupada would say, "so what is your conclusion? If you claim to know the Gita, then you should know the conclusion that Krsna is presenting." But most people didn't think there was supposed to be a definite conclusion to the Gita. And even if there was such a conclusion, that didn't mean they were supposed to arrange their life around it. The Gita was a spiritual book, and you didn't have to follow it.
One young man approached Prabhupada asking, "What book will you lecture from next week? Will you be teaching the Tibetan Book of the Dead?" as if the Swami would teach spirituality like a college survey course in World Religions. "Everything is there in Bhagavad-gita," Prabhupada replied. "We could study one verse for three months."
And there were other such questions: "What about Camus?"
"What is his philosophy?" Prabhupada would ask.
"He says everything is absurd and the only philosophical question is whether to commit suicide."
"That means everything is absurd for him. The material world is absurd, but there is a spiritual world beyond this one. That means he does not know the soul. The soul cannot be killed."
Adherents of different thinkers approached him: "What about Nietzsche? Kafka? Timothy Leary? Bob Dylan?" Prabhupada would ask what each of their philosophies was, and the particular follower would have to explain and defend his favorite intellectual hero.
"They are all mental speculators," Prabhupada would say. "Here in this material world we are all conditioned souls. Your knowledge is imperfect. Your senses are blunt. What good is your opinion? We have to hear from the perfect authority, Krsna."
"Do you mean to say that none of the great thinkers are God conscious?" a boy asked.
"Their sincerity is their God consciousness. But if we want perfect knowledge of God, then we have to consult sastra."
Often there were challenges, but under the Swami's piercing gaze and hard logic, the challenger would usually trail off into thoughtful silence.
"Is the spiritual knowledge of China advanced?"
Prabhupada would sometimes answer simply by making a sour face.
"Well, I am a follower of Vedanta myself."
"Do you know what 'Vedanta' means? What is the first aphorism of the Vedanta-sutra? Do you know?"
"Then how can you speak of Vedanta? Vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyah: Krsna says that He is the goal of Vedanta. So if you are a Vedantist, then you must become Krsna conscious."
"What about the Buddha?" "Do you follow him?" "No:'
"No, you just talk. Why don't you follow? Follow Krsna, follow Christ, follow Buddha. But don't just talk."
"This sounds the same as Christianity. How is it any different?"
"It is the same: love of God. But who is a Christian? Who follows? The Bible teaches, 'Thou shalt not kill,' but all over the world, Christians are expert in killing. Do you know that? I believe the Christians say that Jesus Christ died for our sins—so why are you still sinning?"
Although Prabhupada was a stranger to America, they were strangers to absolute knowledge. Whenever anyone would come to see him, Prabhupada wouldn't waste time—he talked philosophy, reason, and argument. He constantly argued against atheism and impersonalism. He spoke strongly to prove the existence of God, and the universality of Krsna consciousness. He talked often and vigorously, day and night, meeting all kinds of questions and philosophies.
He would listen also, and he heard a wide range of local testimonies. He heard the dissatisfaction of young Americans with the war and with American society. One boy told him he didn't want to get married because he couldn't find a chaste girl; it was better to go with prostitutes. Another confided that his mother had planned to abort him but at the last moment his grandmother had convinced her not to. He heard from homosexuals. Someone told him that a set of New Yorkers considered it chic to eat the flesh of aborted babies. And in every case, he told them all the truth.
He talked with Marxists and explained that although Marx says everything is the property of the State, in fact everything is the property of God. Only "spiritual communism," which puts God in the center, can really be successful. He discounted LSD visions as hallucinations and explained how God can actually be seen and what He looks like.
Although many of these visitors came one time and went away, a few new friends began to stay on, watching the Swami deal with the various guests. They began to appreciate the Swami's arguments, his concern for people, and his devotion to Krsna. He seemed actually to know how to help people, and he invariably offered them Krsna consciousness—as much as they could take—as the solution to their problems. A few began to appreciate his message seriously.
(To be continued)
A Pilgrimage Journal
Might I be viewed as some sort of intercultural interloper?
by Subhananda Dasa
As I boarded the Taj Express, I was immersed in philosophical reflection and overpowered by an extraordinary combination of emotions, both mournful and blissful. I took my seat in a second-class compartment of the Delhi-bound train along with my traveling companion, Satsvarupa dasa Goswami. Peering out the window of the train, I absorbed the intense sights and sounds of Mathura Junction: people, individually and in groups, rushing to catch crowded trains; the sing-song calls of food vendors, the loud whistles of arriving and departing trains, entire families sprawled out on makeshift beds on the floor of the station, waiting long hours for delayed trains. It was the early morning of a warm autumn day, and people were involved in their worldly routines.
As I gazed out the window, my mind returned to nearby Vrndavana, from where I had just come. Events of the past two weeks had made a powerful imprint upon my consciousness, and scenes flashed through my mind in quick succession. I had been present at the passing of my beloved spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and my mind was now exhausted from the mixture of appalling sadness and transcendental exultation surrounding that event. Across from me sat Satsvarupa Goswami, his face bathed in the morning sunlight. He was absorbed in writing in his journal. I wanted to ask him to share with me his thoughts and realizations, but he was clearly in a contemplative mood, and I did not want to distract him. I meditated on my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, greatly desiring his transcendental presence. I recalled the instructive words of one scholarly disciple: "Vyakta, avyakta—manifest and unmanifest—the spiritual master may be physically present or not, but he is always present in the heart of the disciple through his vani, his words. The relationship between guru and disciple is not dependent on physical proximity." I knew, deeper than ever, that my relationship with Srila Prabhupada was a sublime spiritual fact.
A loud, piercing whistle and a sudden jolt of the train shattered my meditations. A well-dressed man across from me was intoning devotional prayers under his breath. Soon the train was moving rapidly through the Indian countryside.
I was now on my way to Delhi to book a return flight to New York. Where would I stay while in Delhi? I could, of course, stay at our ISKCON center, but what if it was full with devotees in transit to and from Vrndavana? I then recalled a surprise encounter, on the flight from New York, with a good friend of mine, an Indian scientist from Denver, Dr. Brahma Sharma. He was on his way to visit his elder brother, Tribhuvanatha, who lived with his family in a Delhi suburb. Brahma had invited me to visit him at his brother's house if at all possible, assuring me that I would be a welcome guest. At that time I had declined his offer, speculating that it was unlikely that I'd be free. Now, however, I was feeling slightly ill and decided that if our Delhi center was too crowded, I would take Brahma up on his kind invitation. Although I had been to India several times before, I had never actually lived with an Indian family. Although I had largely become assimilated into Indian spiritual culture as a brahmacari, a renounced monk, would I be well received at Tribhuvanatha's home, or might I be viewed as some sort of intercultural interloper? I didn't know, but was curious to find out.
As the train glided through rural India, I took in the passing scene with great interest. The train passed remote villages separated by distances great and small. People working in the fields and plowing the land with large muscular oxen, small children deftly manipulating small herds of cows, village women and girls fetching fresh water from ancient wells, villagers engaged in a great variety of agricultural activities and crafts—these passed through my field of vision like a fast-motion movie. I got kicked in the head. A little man had been sleeping in the luggage rack above my head, and he was trying to climb down. He apologized, profusely begging my forgiveness until I became embarrassed.
My vision was again drawn to the rapidly passing countryside, lush and green from the rainy season: young children playing, old women conversing by a well, families gathering for the morning meal, water buffalo submerging their big black bodies in cooling mud. I began to reflect on this mysterious Indian culture, the culture of spiritual India.
It is an entirely different realm of consciousness. Here (in spite of the ravages of passionate consumerism advertised as "modernization") most people have a deeply philosophical perspective on life, a spiritual-philosophical aptitude and demeanor rare in the West.
In India, spiritual vision is not mere armchair philosophy. It is not the domain of complacent university philosophers and theologians interested in creating a reputation for themselves in the history of ideas. It is deeply ingrained in the common man. In India, even a street sweeper knows that he is an eternal, spiritual soul reaping the fruits of karma, materially motivated actions. He knows that there is a transcendental, spiritual world beyond this one, and his goal is ultimate liberation from this temporary world of illusion and suffering.
Still, India is not a paradise. One should not romanticize. In India, natural disasters such as drought and monsoon floods bring on famine. The government is notoriously bureaucratic and beset, like other governments, with endless political intrigue. Poverty haunts the cities. The modern caste system is a corrupt and exploitative perversion of an ancient and enlightened system of social organization. India, largely, has fallen victim to this age of materialism, this age of moral and intellectual degradation the ancient Vedic scriptures call the Kali-yuga. Now India appears only a dim reflection of the ancient and majestic Vedic culture still so much an enigma to modern empiric researchers.
The clearest records of this civilization are not archaeological but literary. A complete and graphic record of Vedic civilization can be found inscribed in the pages of India's ancient Vedic literature, especially its monumental epics, such as the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the eighteen Puranas. These comprise a vast and profound literature and provide remarkable insight into an ancient culture whose roots are not in mundane, relative time, but in eternal transcendence. Vedic culture is primeval and primordial.
Although Vedic culture has flourished, historically, on the Indian subcontinent, it represents a universal principle that transcends relative cultural orientations. It is not "Indian"—it is human. Vedic civilization is conceived on the principle that human life, both individually and collectively, should be organized around the absolute necessity of human spiritual development, without neglect of man's basic material needs. Human society should be organized socially, economically, and politically so that in this life a person can live simply and peacefully and without lack of basic material requirements but simultaneously cultivate spiritual awareness so that at the end of life he can return to the spiritual world. Civilization means Vedic civilization. It is not a product of historical and cultural circumstance but the basis of it. Vedic culture is universal and transcendental.
And this is why it is not "artificial" (as some have suggested) for a Westerner to take to Vedic culture. Such a voluntary transformation does not represent a mere switching of cultural loyalties. We devotees are not mere culture buffs who find India a quaint fascination, or heady romanticists lured by the ethereal and the mystical. Nor are we apologists for contemporary Indian society. The luminous wisdom, the philosophical and theological beauty of India's ancient Vedas call not only Indians but all souls to the divine life, irrespective of culture, race, nationality, or religion.
Spirituality transcends cultural relativity; it goes beyond "East" and "West." God, truth, wisdom, knowledge: these are not relative commodities. They are universal principles. If something is really "true," its veracity is sustained in all places and at all times. God is not Indian or American. He existed long before the establishment of such temporal geographical and political demarcations. Religion is not "Eastern" or "Western." It simply is. And I, a shaven-headed, saffron-robed American on pilgrimage in India, was living proof!
A man approached us and said, "I am most saddened to hear that your guru has now left this world. He was one of our greatest saints. He was the only one who spread India's spiritual wealth all over the world. He has delivered India's sanatana- dharma, her eternal religion, to the people of the world. You are most fortunate to be his disciples." He pressed our hands and continued on his way.
We were nearing Delhi. I had dozed off briefly but was awakened by the movement of passengers to the exits. We arrived at New Delhi station. Satsvarupa dasa Goswami had decided, during the journey, to reserve a seat on a flight for New York leaving in seven days and to return to holy Vrndavana for an extra week. I decided to proceed with my plans to return immediately. We parted ways. He went to the ISKCON temple in New Delhi, and I proceeded to the Pan Am ticket office. The next available flight was not until two days from now. I reserved a seat. I had to wait it out in New Delhi. I flagged down a tiny yellow and black three-wheeled scooter-taxi, one of thousands that buzz around New Delhi like giant bumblebees. I climbed in and began to give the address of our local temple. The driver, a large-turbaned Sikh, stopped me in mid-sentence and said, "I know, I know," and promptly delivered me to the doorstep of the ISKCON temple. As I had anticipated, the temple was a bit overcrowded. I hungered for quiet and solitude. I decided to visit my friend Brahma Sharma, who was staying with his elder brother in suburban Delhi.
When I arrived by three-wheeler at Tribhuvanatha's home, his wife, Rama, a large, smiling woman, the prototype Indian mataji (mother), greeted me like a mother welcoming her long-lost son. I asked for Brahma, and she responded in Hindi. Seeing my quizzical look, she retreated into her house and momentarily returned with her teenage daughter, Neelam, who smiled shyly and, in passable English, invited me into their modest home. Once inside, I was offered a seat and immediately brought a plate of cut fruit and a glass of cold water, a welcome refreshment. I already felt very much at home. The house was rather compact, consisting of a small sitting room in front, a bedroom, a tiny kitchen, and a bathroom in the back. It was small but homey and comfortable. Neelam explained that just the previous day my friend Brahma had gone to visit a brother in Lucknow, several hundred miles away, and that he was not expected for several days. Until then I should please stay. I explained that I was leaving Delhi in only two days, but she only repeated her request that I stay.
One after another, the Sharmas' other children—Meera, Ravi, Bharati, Arati, and Raju—returned from school, and each was amazed and delighted to find an American "sadhu" sitting in their living room. It was not often that they came into close contact with Americans, what to speak of an American with shaven head and saffron robes. I was suddenly an object of awe and delight. Shortly thereafter, Tribhuvanatha Sharma arrived home and was hurriedly met outside by Neelam, who told him the news of the strange visitor. Entering his home, he offered his heartfelt greetings and embraced me warmly. "Brahma told me you might kindly visit us. It is our great fortune that you have come. It is a great blessing on my home and my family. Brahma has gone to Lucknow to visit one of our brothers, but I will call him, and he will return at once." I told Tribhuvanatha that I didn't want to interfere with Brahma's family visit, but he insisted that Brahma would want very much to see me. Tribhuvanatha's English was excellent, so we spoke for a long time. He was a deeply religious and good-hearted man who exuded great fatherly warmth, genteel humility, and an unceasing flow of good cheer.
After a dinner of deliciously cooked vegetarian food, the entire family prepared to visit the local temple, as was the nightly custom, and requested me to accompany them. During the brief walk to the temple, Tribhuvanatha explained that although the community in which he lived, Malviya Nagar, was a suburb of New Delhi, it retained an intimate, small-village atmosphere. This seemed apparent, for warm mutual exchanges occurred whenever almost anyone passed us by on foot. After a brief jaunt down the main street, we arrived at the temple, a sizable structure wherein were installed the divine forms of Radha-Krsna, Sita-Rama, and Laksmi-Narayana, worshiped according to timeless Indian scriptural regulations. We walked into an adjoining auditorium wherein several hundred people were quietly hearing a pandita, a scholar learned in sacred texts, recite and explain the Ramayana, the ancient epic story of King Ramacandra, the perfect king and incarnation of God who had appeared on earth in a bygone age. We quietly entered the large hall and sat down in the back, inconspicuously. A moment later, however, the pandita looked up from his sacred text, motioned to a man sitting near him at the front, then pointed towards me. The man in front came at once to where I was sitting, led me through the assembly to the raised platform in front on which the pandita sat, and sat me down on a raised cushion while another man garlanded me. What was happening? There must have been some mistake! I could then understand that it was simply out of respect for a saffron-robed sadhu that I was receiving this honor. But, frankly, I am no sadhu. I fear that I am not all that holy. At least, as a spiritual neophyte, I try to cultivate a sense of humility, to curb down the tendency toward egoistic pride. But this undeserved attention and honor was not going to be any help.
Momentarily, the pandita concluded his discourse and turned to Tribhuvanatha, who had accompanied me to the front, and the two of them spoke together briefly in whispers. "Panditji," as he was called, then delivered what I later found out from Tribhuvanatha was a rousing, dramatic introduction to "this foreigner from America who at the young age of eighteen completely renounced a life of material comfort and with a pure heart began to seek after God. He is a disciple of the great spiritual master Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and he is staying with Tribhuvanatha Sharma and his family for some time to bless us with his divine presence. Let us now hear his words of enlightenment." If I had understood Hindi, I would have been overcome by embarrassment. Panditji then asked me, through our interpreter, Mr. Sharma, to speak to the large assembly. Within my mind, I earnestly prayed to my spiritual master for inspiration and began to speak as Mr. Sharma translated, sentence by sentence, into Hindi:
"Is it not strange that I am sitting here before all of you, asked to speak for your edification? I was born and educated in a country where materialism is the standard of life. In my youth, I never heard the divine names 'Krsna' or 'Rama: I thought that the whimsical gratification of this temporary material body and mind was the goal of life. I had no idea of an eternal spiritual existence beyond this temporary fleeting life. I had no jnana, transcendental knowledge, no bhakti, devotion to God. I was, from your point of view, more or less uncivilized.
"You, on the other hand, are all pious, religious people, educated in the lofty spiritual principles of your ancient Vedic culture. You live lives, most of you, free from vice. Purity of heart and devotion to God is your way of life. From childhood, you have heard the panditas and sadhus recite the spiritually auspicious stories of Mahabharata, Ramayana, and Bhagavatam. All in all, you are people whose lives are deeply touched by the hand of God.
"Considering our difference, then, how is it possible that I am sitting before you to speak, you thinking that I am some kind of sadhu, a holy person? How is it that one who was without spiritual assets and sinful in every way is now given a seat of honor and asked to address pious Hindus on the goal of life? This is the extraordinary miracle effected by my spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, one of India's greatest saints. By his holy influence thousands of Westerners have given up lives of materialistic self-indulgence and become fully dedicated to self-realization and devotional service to Lord Sri Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Is this not a miracle of modern history? The transcendental and universal quality of your ancient Vedic culture is thus being practically demonstrated for the first time, on a massive scale. Such is the glory of my spiritual master, His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada.
"Five hundred years ago in Bengal, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who was Krsna Himself in the form of a great bhakta, a great devotee, predicted that the chanting of the maha-mantra (Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare) would spread to every town and village and that there would be a great revival of spirituality in this world. Now we see this prediction being fulfilled, as in most countries of the world there is hardly a person who has not heard these divine names of God from the members of the Krsna consciousness movement. I pray that you will bless us in our endeavor and will help us in a practical way to spread this movement to every corner of India and the entire world."
When I had finished speaking, Panditji spoke with great animation and said, as Tribhuvanatha later told me, "We should be ashamed of ourselves! Nowadays we are running after material things, influenced by the West. But this young sadhu himself has come from the West. He had everything material one could desire, but he did not find satisfaction in these things. So he gave it all up and has become a real sadhu and has taken our holy scriptures as his guide in life. We should take this as a great inspiration and seek only after spiritual perfection, Krsna consciousness." He also announced that I would be staying with the Sharmas for some days and would be available for sat-sanga (spiritual discussions and counseling). Panditji then asked me to lead kirtana, devotional chanting. Playing a small harmonium (a kind of hand organ), I led all present in congregational chanting of the maha-mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Afterwards, Panditji adjourned the meeting. As the assembly began to disperse, many approached the stage, offering respects both to Panditji and to me. I felt a little awkward when some people began to garland me and present various offerings such as fruit and flowers. Feeling very humble, I mentally offered these simple gifts to my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, for whom they were actually meant. Many of the people approached Tribhuvanatha and Rama Sharma requesting their permission to go to their home and visit with the new honored guest. I did not feel right accepting, this honor and attention, but viewed it as a chance to speak about Srila Prabhupada and the Krsna consciousness movement.
From that night onwards, I was treated as a spiritual V.I.P. My friend Brahma returned from Lucknow the next day and persuaded me to remain with the Sharmas several days longer. During the next several days, neighborhood people came to visit the Sharmas, seeking spiritual guidance from their resident "American sadhu," who did the best he could.
When the day for my departure came, I had to leave the Sharma household about 3 a.m. to catch an early-morning flight back to America. When the taxi arrived, all the Sharmas arose from bed and came to see me off. They didn't want me to go, and I would have liked very much to stay longer with these wonderful and loving people who had fully accepted me as a family member, loving and caring for me as for a dear son and brother, but I had to return to responsibilities in the U.S. I embraced Tribhuvanatha, and offered respects to everyone else. "Hare Krsna!" I called from the taxi. An enthusiastic "Hare Krsna!" echoed back.
When I arrived at the airport, I was delighted to find Satsvarupa dasa Goswami, accompanied by a few other devotees, there to catch the same plane. My great fortune! After surviving the usual hassles at Indian customs, we boarded our flight and headed for Frankfurt and New York.
In Frankfurt, we had a three-hour layover in the airport. Although I had been in India only three weeks, I experienced some degree of culture shock. Frankfurt International Airport seemed a microcosm of everything bad about the West. Walking about the airport, I encountered a huge duty-free shop offering a cornucopic display of alcoholic beverages and, to my disbelief, a large emporium called "Dr. Muller's Sex Shop." A great variety of shops selling a great variety of useless gadgets, gifts, and sundries competed for the attention and money of thousands of international transit passengers, who eyed one another nervously while passing in the vast airport corridors, walking and running to meet flights destined for points around the globe.
As I walked about the airport, I became the object of some very cold stares and the butt of a few insults and jokes. A woman passed me by with her young daughter, shielding her young gaze from the strange "Hare Krsna" lest she be influenced by some kind of hypnotic evil power. I was reminded of those people in the West who view the Hare Krsna movement as some kind of questionable new "cult." The press, either from ignorance of from malice, tends to merge us in with the growing number of new religious, quasi-religious, and pseudoreligious movements that abound in the West. How can people identify this Krsna consciousness movement with such ad hoc enterprises?
During the flight from Frankfurt to New York, I reflected on my experiences in India and meditated on my eternal spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada. How fortunate I was to have had the rare opportunity to sit at his feet and hear him speak, to view a living saint in action, even to speak with him personally and receive personal instructions from him on occasion. Feeling deeply moved by these sweet reminiscences, I pulled the blanket over me and wept.
Chemical Evolution? Where Do the Chemicals Come From?
This exchange between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada; a guest, and a disciple named Dr. Thoudam D. Singh took place in December of 1973, during a morning walk at Venice Beach, in Los Angeles.
Dr. Singh: The scientists say that at one point the earth, was composed of dust particles floating in some gaseous material. Then in due course this colloidal suspension condensed, and formed the earth.
Srila Prabhupada: That may be, but where did the gas come from?
Dr. Singh: They say it just existed!
Srila Prabhupada: Lord Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita [7.4],
bhumir apo 'nalo vayuh
"Earth, water, fire, air, ether; mind, intelligence, and false ego—all together these eight comprise My separated material energies."
Here Krsna explains that vayu (gas) came from Him. And finer than vayu is kham (ether), finer than ether is mind, finer than mind is intelligence, finer than intelligence is false ego, and finer than false ego is the soul. But the scientists do not know this. They understand only gross things. They mention gas, but where does the gas come from?
Dr. Singh: That they cannot answer.
Srila Prabhupada: But we can answer. From Srimad-Bhagavatam we know that gas has come from kham, or ether, ether comes from mind, mind comes from intelligence, intelligence comes from false ego, and false ego comes from the soul.
Dr. Singh: The scientists argue that before Darwin's biophysical type of evolution could take place, there had to be what' they call "prebiotic chemistry," or chemical evolution.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. And the term "chemical evolution" means that chemicals have an origin, and that origin is spirit, or life. A lemon produces citric acid, and our bodies produce many chemicals in urine, blood, perspiration, and other bodily secretions. This is proof that life produces chemicals, not that chemicals produce life.
Dr. Singh: Scientists say that once the seed of life is present in the cells, then the living entity automatically develops and functions.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but who gives the seed? In the Bhagavad-gita [7.10] Krsna answers this question. Bijam mam sarva-bhutanam viddhi partha sanatanam: "O son of Prtha, know that I am the original seed of all existences." And later [14.4] Krsna says,
"It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kunti, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father."
Dr. Wolf-Rottkay: But in all humility, Srila Prabhupada, suppose the scientists actually succeed in artificially creating a living organism, or even a living cell. What would you say?
Srila Prabhupada: What would be their credit? They would only be imitating what already exists in nature. People are very fond of imitations. If a man in a nightclub imitates a dog, people will go and pay money to watch him. But when they see a real dog barking, they don't pay any attention to it.
Dr. Singh: Srila Prabhupada, the idea of chemical evolution came from a Russian biologist in 1920. He demonstrated that before biochemical evolution, the earth's atmosphere was in a state of reduction. In other words, it was mostly full of hydrogen, with very little oxygen. Then, in due course, the sun's radiation caused these hydrogen molecules to form into different chemicals:
Srila Prabhupada: This is a side study. First of all, where did the hydrogen come from? The scientists simply study the middle of the process; they do not study the origin. We must know the beginning. There is an airplane. [Srila Prabhupada indicates an airplane appearing on the horizon.] Would you say the origin of that machine is the sea? A foolish person might say that all of a sudden a light appeared in the sea and that's how the airplane was created. But is that a scientific explanation? The scientists' explanations are similar. They say, "This existed, and then all of a sudden, by chance, that occurred." This is not science. Science means to explain the original cause.
Perhaps the scientists can create imitations of nature, but why should we give them credit? We should give credit to the original creator, God; that is our philosophy.
Dr. Singh: When a scientist discovers some natural law, he usually names it after himself.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, exactly. The law is already there in nature, but the rascal wants to take credit for it.
Dr. Singh: They are actually fighting against the laws of nature, but often they take a certain kind of pleasure in the struggle.
Srila Prabhupada: That pleasure is childish. Suppose a child builds a sand castle on the beach with great effort. He may take pleasure in it, but that is childish pleasure. That is not a grown man's pleasure. Materialistic men have created a standard of false happiness. They have created a gorgeous arrangement for maintaining a comfortable civilization, but it is all false because they cannot create a situation in which they will be able to enjoy it permanently. At any moment, anyone can be kicked out by death, and all his enjoyment will be finished.,
Dr. Singh: That is why they say that God hasn't given us everything—because we are not able to live here forever.
Srila Prabhupada: But God has given them everything necessary to live peacefully, and everything necessary to understand Him. So why will they not inquire about God? Instead, they do things that help them forget God.
Our colleges and universities have
by Mathuresa Dasa
In the Ninth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita (9.34) Lord Krsna explains that the most confidential of all knowledge culminates in the activities of devotional service:
"Engage your mind always in thinking of Me and become My devotee. Offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me."
Who is Krsna that absorption in thought of Him is the most confidential knowledge? The Bhagavad-gita, and indeed all the Vedic literatures, answer: Krsna is the Supreme Person. The Brahma-samhita (5.1) states,
"The supreme controller is Krsna. He has an eternal, blissful, all-cognizant spiritual body. He is without beginning, He is the origin of everything, and He is the cause of all causes."
As living entities we are each part and parcel of Krsna and therefore eternally connected with Him. Thus our most intimate, most confidential relationship is our relationship with the Supreme Lord.
For most people who profess some religion, an intimate relationship with God is a vague idea at best. They worship God only as the supreme father and the supplier of necessities. And in this age many people do not even believe in God, what to speak of being aware of their confidential relationship with Him. They say that God is dead or that He is merely a product of man's imagination. Or they say that belief in a Supreme Person is a superstition of primitive cultures. Just to clear up these and other misconceptions, Lord Krsna spoke the Gita to His friend and disciple Arjuna.
Arjuna knew Krsna to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore he accepted Krsna's every word as fact. To understand the Gita we should follow in Arjuna's footsteps and accept, at least theoretically, that Krsna is the supreme person, the supreme authority. One might object that this is blind faith. But there is no need of blind faith. We can remain aloof and think, "Let me theoretically accept that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate authority. Then what are the implications of His instructions in the Bhagavad-gita?"
The Gita itself recommends this process of understanding. When we purchase some prescription medicine, a label on the bottle tells us how to take it. "Two pills every four hours:' the label might read. If we take two pills every eight hours, the medicine will be ineffective, and if we take two every hour, the overdose may make our illness worse. Similarly, in the Bhagavad-gita (4.3) we learn of Arjuna's qualifications for understanding Krsna's instructions:
"That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as my friend; therefore you can understand the transcendental mystery of this science."
This is the Gita's "label," so to speak, and if we study it in this way, accepting Krsna as the supreme authority, as Arjuna did, then our study becomes very rewarding. Just as we confide only in someone we can trust, Krsna reveals the confidential meaning of the Gita only to those who approach Him with a devotional mood.
In the Second Chapter of the Gita Krsna elaborately explains the difference between the body and the self. Understanding of this difference—understanding that "I am not this body"—is the beginning of confidential knowledge.
Krsna explains that although the body changes from childhood to youth to old age, the person within the body does not change. A grown man can remember his childhood body, although it is long gone. Who is remembering? The person within the body—the self, or soul. We customarily say "my hand," "my leg," or "my mind," indicating that these are our possessions; they are not we ourselves. Similarly, we can say "my body," indicating that we are not the body but that it belongs to us, to the living soul within it.
The body is like an automobile, which requires an intelligent person to drive it. A car is simply a pile of inert metal, rubber, glass, and so on, and without a driver it remains parked at the side of the road. Only with an intelligent driver at the wheel does it move from place to place. No one but a fool would think the car is moving by itself. Similarly, the body is only a lump of dead matter that appears alive and active only as long as the living entity, the self, is present within it. When the individual living soul leaves the body, the body dies. But, says the Gita (2.20), for the self there is no death:
"For the soul there is never birth or death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain."
The body has a beginning and an end; but we, the spirit soul within each body, are eternal. This is the beginning of confidential knowledge: to understand our eternal identity apart from the body.
As mentioned above, confidential knowledge culminates in absorption in thinking about Krsna and serving Him. In the Bhagavad-gita (9.2) Lord Krsna calls this the "king of education." Real education begins with understanding the difference between the body and the self, or soul, and ends with our full surrender to the Supreme Soul, Lord Sri Krsna. Unfortunately, modern educational institutions almost completely neglect these topics.
No modern educational institution has a department for understanding the difference between' the body and the self. Institutions of higher learning are interested in the sciences of physics, chemistry, sociology, psychology, politics, astronomy, anthropology, and so on, which focus exclusively on the body and its extensions but neglect the spirit soul. But of what relevance are these sciences to a dead body? A dead body takes no interest in them, nor can any scientist revive the body. These sciences are valuable only when the body is alive, and the life within the body depends on the presence of the soul. Therefore the science of the soul is the most important science, the "king of education."
When a body passes from life to death, something has radically changed. What, exactly, is missing in the dead body? Is it a certain chemical? A certain atomic or subatomic particle? If so, then what is that chemical or particle? Even if we deny the existence of an eternal soul, our educational interest should still focus on finding that element within the body which causes the living symptoms. This is essential, for without life our education has no meaning.
Without knowing what life is, a person cannot properly say what he is. One may say, for example, "I am Mr. Bob Jones, a twenty-eight-year-old lawyer." But when the life leaves his body, we will say that Mr. Jones is "dead and gone" or that he has "passed away." Mr. Jones's dead body may still be lying in the casket, but we know that Mr. Jones himself is gone. One way or another, whether we are spirit souls or combinations of chemicals, when our body dies we will no longer be present. So to be in ignorance of the exact difference between a living body and a dead body is to be in ignorance of who we are.
As we have seen, the path of intellectual research through the various material sciences is limited and faulty. Indeed, after many thousands of years of this research, no one can say with assurance what life is. One school of thought may rise to prominence for some time, but in due course it is rejected and another school established. The intellectual skyline is always changing.
To call this change "progress" is misleading, for each school is in turn rejected as faulty, and therefore we are left with only a progression of mistakes. Two centuries ago no one had heard of Darwin or Freud, and two centuries from now they will be all but forgotten. Thus the path of material research is never safe or certain.
We must conclude, therefore, that our present research tools are themselves inadequate for finding out the nature and origin of life. If life originated in chemicals, we could find its source in the chemical laboratory. And if life and consciousness were a function of our mental activity, we could fully explain them by psychology. But since the origin of life and consciousness is the eternal spirit soul, who is beyond the material body and mind, our material sciences have not succeeded and never will succeed in reaching satisfactory conclusions in this field. The Bhagavad-gita therefore proclaims that after many lifetimes spent pursuing knowledge on the path of intellectual research, an intelligent man at last surrenders to Krsna and accepts the path of devotional service.
Being a spiritual process, devotional service is the proper context in which to study life and consciousness. As spirit souls we are part and parcel of Krsna, the Supreme Soul, just as the hand is part and parcel of the body. The hand's natural position is to serve the body by supplying food to the stomach. Then both the hand and the body as a whole are nourished. The hand cannot directly benefit from the food; it can get nourishment and energy only by feeding the stomach. Similarly, if we satisfy Krsna by our service, we ourselves will automatically feel satisfied.
To experience this satisfaction directly, we must engage in devotional service to Krsna. There are nine methods of devotional service: hearing about Krsna, chanting His glories, remembering Him, serving Him, praying to Him, worshiping Him, befriending Him, carrying out His orders, and surrendering everything to Him. By executing even one of these processes, we begin to reestablish our relationship with the Supreme Lord. For example, we can hear Krsna's own words from the Bhagavad-gita, and we can hear about Krsna from the Srimad-Bhagavatam (the foremost of the Vedic literatures known as Puranas, ancient histories). Then we can discuss what we have heard, and we can also chant the names of God: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Ram-a, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. By hearing and chanting in this way we can reawaken our remembrance of Krsna, and as our knowledge of God develops we will want to render service by worshiping, carrying out His orders, and so on. We can also cook for Krsna. Devotees offer sumptuous vegetarian dishes to Krsna, as. He Himself requests in the Gita (9.27): "If one offers Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it." After offering the dishes to Krsna, the devotees partake of the delicious remnants, which are called krsna-prasada (the Lord's mercy). All these activities are easily and joyfully performed.
This is spiritual education, and we can directly perceive and judge the results. In an ordinary university the student requires periodic examinations to confirm that he's learning something. Otherwise, he might doubt that he is getting an education—or others might doubt it. But in the spiritual education of devotional service, we directly perceive our advancement. When a hungry man eats a hearty meal, he feels satisfaction directly; he doesn't need anyone to tell him he's satisfied. Similarly, we don't need diplomas to confirm that we're getting a spiritual education, because the outcome of a spiritual education is that one becomes happy and satisfied in every way. This is the result of pleasing Krsna with our service. Anyone who participates in the activities of devotional service feels transcendental pleasure. The purpose of the centers of Krsna consciousness in cities and towns around the world is to give people an opportunity to culture the most confidential knowledge and participate in this happiness of serving Krsna.
A look at the worldwide activities of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
A look at the worldwide activities of the
Krsna People Defeat Deprogrammers
Los Angeles (AP)—Recently a federal judge approved a settlement awarding the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and one of its members $ 10,000 and court costs in a deprogramming case.
U.S. District Court Judge David Williams signed the order ending a case that began more than three years ago when Madonna Slavin Walford, a Hare Krishna devotee, was abducted from her parents' home in Arcadia, California, and driven to Northern California for a deprogramming.
After the settlement Mrs. Walford said, "I appeal to Americans everywhere, and particularly to parents of Hare Krishna devotees throughout this nation, to understand that this is not a cult. I am practicing a religion that is more than five thousand years old, a religion whose book of truth, the Bhagavad-gita, is sacred to more than six hundred million people on this planet."
Scholars, Clergy Praise Hare Krsna Movement in Australia
Melbourne—Many prominent figures in the religious and academic fields in Australia have appreciated the Hare Krsna movement and have strongly affirmed its historical and religious authenticity, as well as its contribution to the intellectual, social, and cultural life of contemporary Australia. The following are samples of their appreciations.
"The Hare Krsna movement is a genuine representative of one of the well-known schools of Indian personal theism. The literature of the movement, especially the works of the founder, Srila Prabhupada, are scholarly translations and expositions of that tradition. It is thus unfortunate that the general public tends to lump together all unusual religious movements as "cults" thus judging the Hare Krsna movement on the same level as, for example, the Moonies, the Scientologists. Jim Jones' tragic 'People's Temple,' or the Ananda Marg. The followers of the Hare Krsna movement, on the contrary, should be regarded as genuine missionaries of a genuine and well-authenticated Hindu tradition.
"The Hare Krsna movement demands and receives from its devotees extremely high moral standards, for example in the areas of sex, drugs, and alcohol. Indeed, a considerable part of the attraction of the movement lies in the fact that it encourages a simplicity and self-discipline of life-style which appeals to many fine young people who are in revolt against the extravagance of the society in which they live.
"I myself spent twenty years as a Christian missionary in India. I know what it is like to witness to one's faith in a different cultural environment. As one who enjoyed religious freedom in India, I feel it is essential that we in Australia should ensure similar freedom to people of all faiths. It is very important for the freedom of religion, not only in Australia but in India and elsewhere, that no legislation should be passed which might infringe this liberty. The success of the Hare Krsna movement in the Western world is a challenge to Christians to listen, to understand, to learn, and then to reexamine their own faith. To react by encouraging repressive legislation would be a denial of the liberty which we claim for ourselves, and which we must share with others."—The Reverend Dr. Robin H.S. Boyd (Former Presbyter, Church of North India: Minister, Uniting Church of Australia)
"As a professional teacher of Asian civilizations and religious movements, I have been impressed, like many other Indologists, by the sincerity and devotion of your movement in Australia. It is doubtless a beautiful transplantation of an ancient ideal of clean moral living, vegetarianism, devotional worship (bhakti), celibacy, and the study of scriptures. It appears to be in perfect conformity with the cultural and religious practices of age-old Vaisnavite Hinduism. Yours is a movement which is open and catholic and devoid of frenzy and fanaticism, aggression and violence. I wish your movement all success and peaceful coexistence with everyone else in Australia."—Dr. S.D. Singh (Department of History. University of Queensland).
"The Hare Krsna devotees are followers of a legitimate and ancient religion. I have quite some experience of Christian religious communities and can thus affirm that all that is best in Christian monastic virtues was present in the Melbourne headquarters of the Hare Krsna movement, which I personally visited. There is no Christian doctrine which would deny holiness and sanctity to members of other religions, and holiness was certainly there in the Krsna community, as was happiness and humanity. The request I would want to make of my fellow Christians is not to lump the Hare Krsnas into what we Australians would call 'The Ratbag Element' (translation: those who are fanatical and monomaniacal about an outlandish set of beliefs). The reason I would give for that request is the simplest one in the world—that is a category in which the Hare Krsnas definitely do not belong."—The Reverend Fr. Ian N. Hunter, M.Th. (Anglican priest: Chaplain, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology)
"I believe that the Hare Krsna movement is here to stay, and will have an influence far beyond its actual membership in the years to come, making for gentleness in human relationships and faith in the fundamental goodness of the world in days of increasing tensions, in both social and individual life. I am glad that you are bringing Krsna consciousness to the Western world, for it cannot but grow spiritually richer from what you are doing. As a human being, I must applaud the fact that your movement is bringing faith and joy back into the lives of many young people who have not been able to find those virtues in the religion and culture in which they were raised, and I wish you success in the good work you are doing."—Dr. A.L. Basham (Professor and Head. Department of Asian Civilizations. The Australian National University, Canberra)
In Australia and New Zealand
by Amogha Dasa and Visakha-Devi Dasi
On May 9, 1971, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada stepped from an airliner at Sydney's International Airport into Australian history. Thirty disciples of the seventy-four-year-old spiritual master of the Hare Krsna movement greeted him in their traditional robes with garlands of flowers and the chanting of Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, a practice that over the past year had become familiar to passersby on Sydney streets.
By June of 1974 the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) was recognized and registered by the federal government of Australia as a bona fide church. Several devotees became registered ministers of religion with the right to perform marriages as legal celebrants.
Today ISKCON in Australia and New Zealand includes four temples and three farms totaling more than 1,200 acres. It has opened four vegetarian restaurants, initiated two drug rehabilitation programs, and established the Ratha-yatra chariot festival as a much anticipated summer event. A historic building in downtown Melbourne serves as ISKCON's Australian headquarters. The National Trust applauded the devotees for renovating the building (originally constructed in 1890) and especially commended them for the facade. The fifty devotees in the community conduct daily classes in the ancient Vedic literature, and hundreds of guests participate weekly in vegetarian feasts and seminars on bhakti-yoga (the yoga of devotion to God).
Also in downtown Melbourne, one block from Flinder's railway station, is Gopal's. This ornate restaurant serves a unique all-you-can-eat buffet of traditional vegetarian Indian dishes—absolutely free. Gopal's, devotees explain, introduces people to the philosophy of "simple living, high thinking" that underlies their diet of naturally grown fruits, vegetables, grains, and milk products.
Devotees recently opened a second Gopal's in Prahran, one of Melbourne's largest suburbs. In Adelaide a third restaurant, Govinda's, satisfies hundreds of customers daily with spicy bean patties, fruit salad, vegetable fritters fried in clarified butter, Indian sweets, and fresh cheesecake. Managed by a husband-and-wife devotee couple, Govinda's has captured the culinary interest of Adelaide with a two-dollar all-you-can-eat menu.
There is yet another ISKCON restaurant in Melbourne, but this one has a different theme. "Mukunda's Drop-In" is in fact part of ISKCON's drug rehabilitation program located in St. Kilda, a district of very heavy drug traffic. Doctors and government officials have praised the Drop-In program for its effectiveness. Dr. Fraser McDonald, Chief Medical Superintendent at Auckland's Carrington Hospital, says, "Medicine as it has been practiced in the West concentrates far too much on the purely mechanical, physical aspects of healing. Little attention is paid to the psychological aspects, and absolutely no attention is given to the religious or spiritual part of a person's being, for a variety of reasons. However, the result of this was that we at the Drug Clinic had to look around for people with expertise in a spiritual way of life so that we could offer this to our recovering drug addicts. And the Hare Krsna people gave us a warm welcome. We discovered that the combination of our medical care and the spiritual care from the Hare Krsna philosophy results in a very powerful tool indeed for the treatment of drug addiction, and for this we are very grateful."
The combination of a drug counseling center and restaurant has been most successful in King's Cross, Sydney. Here Mukunda's Drop-In receives hundreds of people daily who aspire to live a purer life, free from drugs and other unwanted habits. Mukunda's manager is Vasusrestha dasa. "At a drug rehabilitation course," he says, "we were told there is no known cure for drug addiction. I think the program at Mukunda's has proven them wrong. Krsna consciousness provides not only a way to quit drugs—a healthy diet, personal spiritual guidance, and the chanting of Hare Krsna—but also motivation to stay off drugs permanently. By learning how the soul within the body is eternal, a drug addict begins to see himself in a more dignified way. Rather than feeling like a recipient of charity, a person who comes to Mukunda's develops a spiritual vision of himself and the world."
"The bhakti-yoga program the devotees offer is the best thing I've come across," comments Jim Scarano, Mukunda's drug counselor, a psychologist who earned his degree from MacQuarie University in Sydney. "Most programs try merely to return one to a 'normal' level of communication with society. But bhakti-yoga teaches him to respect himself spiritually and to see that progress doesn't end with getting a job or blending with the mainstream of society. More than one hundred people dine here every day. Many become vegetarian, and the number who come off drugs is startling. There is so much to indicate the effectiveness of the program."
For those who want to learn more about the ISKCON programs and principles, the devotees provide guest, rooms at the Bhaktivedanta Ashram, a 113-acre farm at Colo, near Windsor, N.S.W. The Colo River flows by one boundary of the farm, nourishing the four hundred mandarin and other assorted fruit trees and vegetable gardens that grow there.
"ISKCON is dedicated to showing people how to live a simple, happy, God conscious life," explains Prabhupada-krpa Goswami, who oversees the numerous ISKCON projects in Australasia. "Before Srila Prabhupada passed away, he said he had established half of his work—millions of Krsna conscious books were being printed and distributed—so now the Krsna conscious farming communities should be developed. Our city temples introduce people to Krsna philosophy, and now people can come to our farms and see how one should live in a simple, self-sufficient, God conscious manner.
"Nowadays the millions living in the cities depend on a handful in the country—those who do the farming," Prabhupada-krpa Goswami explains. "But as long as food production relies on a few farmers dependent on machinery and oil, the position is precarious. Krsna consciousness teaches that the gift of human intelligence should be used to reduce our material entanglements and assure real self-fulfillment. That means a simple, basically agrarian way of life. Srila Prabhupada gave us a four-point program for our farms: 'Grow your own food, build your own homes, make your own cloth, and grow your own medicines.' And whatever we do, we do as an offering to Lord Krsna. This is natural life, the way human beings were meant to live and become happy."
Nestled at the foot of Mount Warning, seventy-five miles south of Brisbane, is ISKCON's New Govardhana Farm, a thousand acres of mango trees, papayas, pineapples, apples, oranges, lemons, bananas, guavas, plums, avocados, and an equally rich variety of vegetables. "If three hundred people came here tomorrow, there would be work for all of them," says Sabhapati dasa, president of the farm. "Nearly half a million Australians receive government aid for unemployment. Here's a practical solution. We're planting orchards and building houses and temples, a school, guest accommodations... enough work for everybody."
Another ISKCON farm is New Varshana, 100 acres situated just outside Auckland, New Zealand. In New Zealand a recent poll found that the number-one national pastime is reading. So the devotees here are finding a wide and favorable acceptance of Krsna consciousness. In a land where industrialization has come gently, New Varshana, which emphasizes independence from modern technology and reliance on a God-centered relationship with the environment, has proved a centerpoint of attraction for hundreds of visitors from many varied walks of life.
"The farms don't offer the sensual trappings of city life," says Hari Sauri, "but what they do offer is so much more satisfying that our communities are expanding rapidly. It's not just a question of living in the country. It's being in a situation which permits one to develop an appreciation for God and one's relationship with Him. Without the higher taste of chanting Hare Krsna and cultivating God consciousness, village life alone will not satisfy anyone.
"The same principle applies to drug rehabilitation. So many groups do drug rehabilitation. They also feed people and give them counseling. But on the whole they fail to cure people of their addictions, because they don't know the actual purpose of life. All they can offer is a place in materialistic society, where one still ends up losing everything at death.
"But in Krsna consciousness we give a person a positive alternative which lifts him completely from degrading materialistic activity. When he learns a little of the philosophy of Bhagavad-gita he understands who he is and the goal of his life. Then we offer him a program of practical work. As he works for Krsna, all bad habits fall away. Many people actually want to lead a pure life, and Krsna consciousness shows them how. The real disease is ignorance of our true spiritual identity and our relationship with Krsna, or God. Once that is cured, all other diseases fade quickly away."
Are you a good listener?
Are you a good listener or a bad one?
According to the Sperry Corporation (their products include computers and military guidance systems), the distinction is an important one. One of the corporation's promotional ads begins: "We understand how important it is to listen."
Says Sperry vice-president Richard L. Robertson, effective listening "is one of our greatest strengths in the marketplace." When employees listen ineffectively, money is lost, letters have to be retyped, orders reshipped, and so forth. When bad listening exists on the personnel level, "employees feel more and more distant, and ultimately alienated from top management."
Sperry enrolls its employees in workshops to improve their ability to listen and respond to others. They have freely offered the results of their listening research as. a public service and have published a booklet, "Your Personal Listening Profile." I have applied their advice to the field of transcendental listening and would like to offer a little test to help you rate yourself. How good a listener are you?
The first test of a good listener is his ability to find points of interest in what is being said. The bad listener prematurely tunes out what he considers dry subjects, where the good listener looks to find out, "What's in it for me?" Suppose I say I am going to discuss self-realization as it is explained in the Bhagavad-gita. A bad listener might feel that the topic does not apply to his own private life. But if one listens with a keen ear for his real self-interest, then self-realization becomes a profitable subject for understanding. Certainly everyone would like to be free of the miseries of the world—birth, death, disease, and old age—and everyone would like to live forever in happiness. And these are the benefits of self-realization. So an effective listener will tune in to the vital subject matter of self-realization as it is presented in the Bhagavad-gita.
The next sign of an effective listener is his ability to "hold his fire." A bad listener tends to take an argumentative attitude as soon as he hears an idea he doesn't already accept, but a good listener hears all the facts before he decides to challenge or accept. Some listeners are just too conditioned; as soon as they hear the words "God" or "Krsna" or "the soul," they don't want to hear anything more. Yet many times these prejudices are due to a person's having heard only sentimental or unqualified discussions of God. Naively, these persons have decided that any presentation of God consciousness is sectarian or mythological, even when it is presented scientifically and philosophically, as in the Bhagavad-gita. This is ineffective hearing. Such a person is acting on personal emotions and prejudices which preclude inquiry into the very idea that has been the most influential and enduring throughout human history.
Another sign of an effective listener is his willingness to exercise his mind. A bad listener shuns weighty philosophical topics in favor of light, recreational ones, but the good listener takes to heavy material as an exercise for the mind. Too much TV titillation, perhaps—absurd commercials, moronic programs; the brain has gone soft from lack of exercise. And consequently, deep introspection and philosophical research into the meaning of life seem too demanding.
Long before the advent of Sperry's new slogan, the Vedic sages were aware of people's tendency not to hear about the Absolute Truth. Sukadeva Gosvami stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam, "In human society those persons who are materially engrossed, being blind to the knowledge of ultimate truth, have many subject matters for hearing," Sukadeva Gosvami described as folly the many activities of a materialistic person whose temporary busyness prevents him from seeing that death will soon come and end all his plans for happiness. He has no time to hear about life beyond death. "But one who desires to be free from all misery," says Sukadeva, "must hear about, glorify, and also remember the Personality of Godhead, the supreme controller and the savior from all miseries." So although the cost of inefficient listening in the business world may amount to millions of dollars, the loss from not listening to definitive discussion of the spiritual nature is far greater. As stated by Jesus Christ, "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his immortal soul?"
With all thanks to the Sperry Corporation for their concern about effective listening, improved listening must ultimately go beyond what they have offered. Their commitment, after all, is based on the fact that good listening can be used as a tool for financial gain. But according to Vedanta-sutra ("Aphorisms of Ultimate Knowledge"), a person has to calculate his best self-interest in eternal terms, not temporary. Materially motivated listening, even though it be effective listening, is, like everything else material, temporary. But in this temporary lifetime, a human being has to inquire into his eternal nature. Only by listening to the eternal science of self-realization, as it is presented in the Bhagavad-gita, can one cross over the darkness of suffering and death. At present, we may not know the answers to life's ultimate philosophical questions, but we must admit that this is the most important topic for hearing. Otherwise, although we may be effective listeners, and although we may take advantage of the latest advancements in communications, it is all of dubious value.
When, in the early nineteenth century, Henry David Thoreau heard that communication time between Boston and New York had been reduced to five hours, he asked skeptically whether there was anything of such importance that it had to be transported so quickly from the people of Boston to the people of New York. The Vedic literature points out that even animals have efficient systems of hearing and responding, but only the human being hears and comprehends the science of self-realization. The special qualification of the human being is that he can make a solution to the problems of life by hearing discussions of the Absolute Truth.
Vedic knowledge analyzes that the Absolute Truth cannot be learned from an ordinary person, because everyone within the material world is subject to four defects: we have a tendency to make mistakes, a tendency to be illusioned, and a tendency to cheat others, and we have limited senses. So just as important as effective listening is finding the right authority to listen to. Knowledge of the soul and God, by which man can become free of material bondage, can be gained only by hearing from perfect sources: revealed scriptures and God-realized sages. But, you might ask, is such perfection of knowledge possible? Before you glibly answer this question, I would suggest that you "hold your fire." First, why not make a serious inquiry into the Vedic literature, utilizing the principles of effective listening.—SDG